Design in business – the value of differentiation

Some people don’t understand design. Others don’t perceive its value. We do, however, live in a world where design and branding is playing an increasingly vital role in helping us differentiate one service or product from another.

Brand guru Wally Olins summed it up nicely by asserting “brands represent clarity, reassurance, consistency, status and membership – everything that enables human beings to define themselves.”

Maybe this definition appears a bit lofty or perhaps self-serving but the reality is that as consumers we are all impacted by design in one form or another – whether that is good, bad, conscious or unconscious design.

Perhaps you have come across Tom Peters' ‘Essentials’ book series. In ‘Design Essentials’ Peters states: “Design is so critical it should be on the agenda of every meeting in every single department.”

Giant BikesGiant Bikes Sydney – the concept of bringing the workshop to the front provides a heightened customer experience

He argues that it is through design that companies can create differentiation and gain competitive advantage. He talks about selling (and buying) the brand experience. This in turn translates to companies competing less on price by leveraging the user experience and the emotional aspects of a brand.

I particularly like his viewpoint that Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles and that Guinness doesn’t sell beer. Club Med doesn’t sell vacations and Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee. (To find out what they do actually sell you need to read the book.)

The experts say we are presently in an economic period called ‘The Knowledge Economy’. This is a world where innovation, ideas and creativity lead consumption. New processes, products and services are a critical part of economic growth. According to PwC, top innovators generate over 75 percent of revenue from products and services not in existence five years ago.

So design, it seems, is key. But what is design and how do you measure it? It is often viewed ambiguously as a new product. This is a narrow view and fails to capture the benefits of investing in design that relates to other aspects of an enterprise such as marketing and communications, branding and environments. And then there is the marketplace and the customer where design has the greatest impact.

It stands to reason the customer should be placed at the centre of design decisions. I often wonder when products or services fail to deliver or just plain don’t work whether this is the case.

Let’s take Giant Bikes as a good example of customer-centric design. Truly a global innovator, Giant Bikes was originally founded as an OEM supplying bike frames to known retail brands and is now the world’s largest bike manufacturer selling more than five million bikes per year and over 80 percent of the world’s bike frames.

Giant’s aim is simple – to inspire adventure in all riders from casual to competitive. The Giant tagline, ‘Ride Life. Ride Giant.’ reflects an aspiration, from kids and families through to performance riding, to embrace cycling as a lifestyle. With 200-plus individual bike styles to choose from, Giant Bikes is attentive to the diverse needs of its customers. 

Giant Bikes marketing manager Martin Clucas states: “Design plays a pivotal role in the fit-out of the Giant Bikes stores with product display, layout and visual merchandising contributing greatly to our success today.”

In Australia Giant is partnering with like-minded retailers to embrace the quality and innovation of Giant and translate this into a customer experience.  The fundamental objective of its retail plan is to elevate the professionalism of the retailer, improving product knowledge and energising the look and feel of the retail space.

Concepts such as bringing the service and repair elements from back of house to front of house and the development of bespoke bike specification with personalised testing and fitting areas place the customer at the centre of the Giant Bikes experience, while customised racking systems and merchandising displays have been developed to accent the attributes of each bike style and appeal to each customer segment.

For Giant, customer research, robust retail partner selection and a focus on design have translated to uplift in sales for new stores.

I recently attended a marketing summit involving senior marketers from over 80 of Australia’s and New Zealand’s leading enterprises. The event featured US business mentor Seth Godin via satellite, who presented an animated viewpoint based on the ‘tribal’ nature of customers.

Godin posits in this tribal environment, difference and uniqueness both thrive and are celebrated. It’s true that designing customised products and services for clusters or tribes of consumers can be expensive and time consuming. On the other hand, the demand for new products and services from a more discerning and selective customer base is forcing enterprises to invest in customer-centric design. Investing in design and ensuring that the customer is central to that process leads to competitive advantage and economic growth.

The UK Design Council states that applying good design will help companies develop new products and services that respond to changes in consumer behaviour. Design has a direct link to business performance; 86 percent of UK firms report that design helps them compete internationally, while 45 percent of firms that don’t use design compete mainly on price as opposed to 21 percent of firms where design is significant.

The bottom line? Design can increase market share. Design can increase revenue and profit. Design can help develop new markets. Design can increase employment and assist to become an employer of choice. Design adds value.

Kelvin Taylor is marketing director at Diadem.

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